January 23, 2006

Inside the verbal commitment circle

One of the more frequent items getting reported in the last part of January is the de-commitment and recommitment of a player to a university.

This usually brings both good feelings and hard feelings, so it is interesting to examine the recruiting process and see what happens behind the scenes.

There are two evaluation processes going on simultaneously. Each highly recruited player is evaluating the colleges that are recruiting him. Early playing time, winning record, distance from home, relationships with the coaches are all part of the player's decision-making criteria.

On the other side, college coaches are evaluating not only the player's ability, but also his academic portfolio, and after getting to know him, whether he really fits within their team structure and culture.

Schools "rank-order" recruits and eventually make a scholarship offer. If the player likes the offer, then he has the opportunity to make a verbal commitment to the school. However, verbal commitments are non-binding and nothing is officially finalized until National Signing Day, in this year's case, February 1. There in lies the problem regarding verbal commitments and de-commitments.

Most of the time, it is NOT the university that makes a change, it is the player. For a school to "drop" a player at the last minute after accepting a verbal commitment, it is almost sure political suicide. The player and his parents are usually upset and certainly his high school coach is upset. Many times the high school coach will verbally ban a school from coming back to recruit future prospects.

When a player makes a verbal commitment, he theoretically takes himself "off the shelf", forcing the other schools recruiting him to look elsewhere. If a school drops him at the last minute, it might be really difficult to find another spot.

From the University's point of view, once they fill their "slots" at a certain positions, then the coaches usually tell other players they were recruiting that they are "filled up" at that position, in effect telling the prospects to look elsewhere. Coaches are looking to lock up prospects, to fill their available scholarship needs and move on to other needs, in some cases, the evaluation of juniors.

When a player de-commits late in the process, the school literally may have no other players on their "recruiting board". Most college coaches will tell you that it is really hard to "heat up" on a prospect, if they have already told him they weren't going to offer him a scholarship. But they do.

An early signing period like basketball has would go a long way to eliminating some of these problems, however each prospect deserves the right to make the best decision for him. After all, it is his life and there are hard penalties regarding eligibility if the player wants to change his mind after signing his letter of intent.

There are hard feelings, but what seems to bother college coaches the most is the player who makes a verbal commitment, yet wants to continue taking recruiting trips. It really forces the college to continue recruiting players they really don't want to sign, while "baby-sitting" the kids they have already received commitments from.

It will be all over with on February 1, much to the relief of the coaches, players, and parents.


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